Russian Daniil Medvedev new No. 1 entering BNP Paribas Open, but it's not time for celebration

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - If you look at the top of the current ATP men's rankings, two things stand out: Daniil Medvedev is now in the top spot, and there is no mention of his home country of Russia next to his name.

That is a perfect representation of the unusual position and conflicting emotions for the newly minted top player in the world and top seed at the BNP Paribas Open.

On the one hand, he just surpassed Novak Djokovic to become the top player in the world rankings, just the fifth player to hold that title since 2004. It would normally be a time for celebration and shouting from the rooftops.

On the other hand, Medvedev is from Russia, and since the invasion of Ukraine, Medvedev and all pro tennis players from Russia and Belarus have been stripped of anything emblematic of their country by tennis' governing bodies.

Daniil Medvedev works out on the lawn at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden during the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., on March 10, 2022.
Daniil Medvedev works out on the lawn at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden during the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., on March 10, 2022.

Medvedev wants to celebrate his greatest career achievement, but he understands that this is not a time to be happy and smiling and on top of the world.

He discussed those mixed emotions in a news conference before his first match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. He talked specifically about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but without using any harsh language toward his homeland.

"My message is I want peace in all the world for all the countries. Actually, I don't know how many countries there are in the world, but every country," the 26-year-old from Moscow said. "If you ask 10 guys around the world in any country, there will be 10 different opinions and maybe the general opinion will be the same, but if you go into details it is going to be different, and that is the same when I talk to my friends in Russia. They all have different opinions. In these moments we talk about politics, but I try not to get too much into that. I try to respect everybody's opinion."

Medvedev was asked if he thought being forced to play on tour as a neutral player with no mention of his country was a fair decision by the ATP and ITF, and again he played it down the middle.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia practices during day one of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., on Monday, March 7, 2022.
Daniil Medvedev of Russia practices during day one of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., on Monday, March 7, 2022.

"I don't make these decisions, and it was the same in the Olympic games for us already. It's always tough to talk on this subject for me," Medvedev said. "I want to promote my sport, promote it in my country for sure also. Right now, the situation is this is the only way we can play so that's what I'm going to do. I will try to fight on the court and try to win the tournaments and try to beat the other guys."

Many sports have fully banned Russian athletes from the competition including soccer, hockey, ice skating, track and field, but tennis is still allowing its athletes to compete for now.

"We never know the way the situation is evolving. Yes, other sports have made this decision, especially team sports," Medvedev said. "Tennis is an individual sport, but there is always that possibility."

In Indian Wells, Medvedev will be competing, and he will be playing for the first time as the world's No. 1 player, a position only held by 27 players since the rankings were created in 1973.

He has not lost to anyone not named Rafael Nadal this year, losing to Nadal in the final of the Australian Open and the semifinal at the Mexican Open in the two tournaments he has played.

What does he think about seeing that No. 1 next to his name this week?

"Feels great, not the first time I'm a first seed in a tournament, but yes first as No. 1 in the world," he said. "A lot of pressure, but at the same time a lot of motivation. In my case, I'm going to try to do my best. Gain the most points possible. Here, it's 1,000 points, and the tour is very tough. A lot of strong players so it's not easy."

He's right. It will be a tough road. Medvedev begins play Saturday in a first-round match against Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic, but he's in a quarter of the draw that also includes Carlos Alcaraz, defending champion Cam Norrie and world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas. If he were to face Nadal in the BNP Paribas Open, it would come in the semifinal.

In a lighter moment, Medvedev was asked how many times he's checked the ATP rankings just to see his name at the top.

"I will be very honest, zero times," he said. "Of course, it crossed my mind more than zero times. It's a great feeling."

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Russia's Daniil Medvedev new No. 1, but it's not time for celebration